Congress Accuses Toyota of Withholding Information in Acceleration Probe

Congress Accuses Toyota of Withholding Infomation
Congress Accuses Toyota of Withholding Infomation

Congress continues to press Toyota Motor (TM) about its knowledge of problems with unintended acceleration in its vehicles. Lawmakers on Tuesday sent a letter to the world's largest automaker seeking more information about the brake override feature that the company has begun installing on new cars and trucks to prevent incidents of unintended acceleration, such as those that earlier this year led to recalls of some 8 million vehicles worldwide.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have learned to their surprise that the feature may have already been installed in earlier years' Toyota models. In a three-page letter to Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. President James Lentz, the panel asked why the information hadn't been previously disclosed.

"Neither you nor Toyota's electronics experts informed the committee that some older model vehicles may already have a brake override function that is tied" to accelerator software, said the letter, signed by Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).

The panel wants to know if it's true that some older vehicles may already have the technology, which allows the brake to override accelerator input in order to allow drivers to stop their vehicles. The committee gave Toyota until July 12 to respond.

The committee said it had learned of the possibility that the "new" solution might in fact be an old one from outside technical experts who based their finding on a review of a 2005 Toyota Camry.

Toyota Sticks to Its Script: Electronics Can't Be the Cause

The committee also requested that Toyota turn over unedited versions of documents created by Exponent (EXPO), a testing firm that Toyota hired to look for causes of unintended acceleration. The committee said it received a document that had been edited to add subject headers, an introduction and "other substantive content." "These changes constitute a clear violation of the Committee's instructions that responsive documents are to be produced without alteration," the letter said.

In a statement Tuesday, Toyota said the company "is in receipt of Representatives Waxman and Stupak's letter dated today, and we will continue to cooperate with the Congressional Committee in response to their ongoing requests."

Toyota has said repeatedly that incidents of unintended acceleration in its vehicles are caused either by bulky floor mats that pin the accelerator to the floor or by "sticky" gas pedals, and it has issued separate recalls to fix the problems. It has repeatedly denied that electronics are a source of the problem.

In March, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood enlisted the aid of engineers from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences to look into whether electronics could be one source of the unintended acceleration problems. The agencies are conducting separate studies into the potential for electronic systems to cause the malfunction, and whether the problem exists across the industry. Analysis of the studies' findings is expected to be published in mid-2011.